“Fifteen years have passed since the snowy winter day when I turned the corner of the road into Pleasant Valley and said to myself, “This is the place.”
I had come back after 25 years of living in the world to my own country, to the valley I had known as a boy. I knew the country in the marrow of my bones; I knew it even in the recurring dreams which happened in strange countries here and therxe over half the world.
I knew the marshes and the hills, the thick, hardwood forests, the wide fields and the beautiful hills behind which lay one lovely small valley after another, each a new, a rich, mysterious self-contained world on its own.”
-Louis Bromfield, My Experience: The Pleasures and Miseries of Life on a Farm, 1955
When Pulitzer-prize winning author Louis Bromfield decided to return to his Richland County, Ohio, home, he knew that he wanted to escape the uncertainties of a changing world, and he knew that he wanted to farm the land.
Voyage to Ohio. “I was sick of the troubles, the follies and the squabbles of the Europe which I had known and loved for so long. I wanted peace and I wanted roots for the rest of my life,” he wrote in the introduction to this book.
“The record of my own country in these times with its politics, its meddling in the affairs of other nations, its spasmodic Utopianism, its militarism, its saber rattling, its attempts to dominate the world and dictate the policies of other nations, has been no record in which to take pride or to justify a sense of superiority in any American.”
Because he had lived abroad and traveled extensively, Bromfield likely had a much bigger sense of the world than any of the neighbors to whom he returned. He found their view of the world “childishly naive” and yet generous and open-hearted.
“We have merely been more fortunate than other peoples. We are generous because we can afford to be generous. We are perhaps open-hearted because we are still a young people, but we still understand very little about the evils of the world or how they can be cured or at least modified.”
Bromfield came to the Ohio valley of his youth to escape those evils and the weariness of Europe. He wanted to develop a farm that would be “self-sustained and complete and peaceful.” He wanted what many of us long for today.
War of his own. What he didn’t bargain for was that he would begin to fight a war of his own: a war to stop the wasting away of farmland. When the snow melted off of that land, he saw “desolation and sterility – created by man, by ignorance, by greed and by a strange belief inherent in early generations of American farmers that their land owed them a living.”
He went on to be revered by some and hated by others as he pushed farmers toward conservation-minded farming. He writes in the introduction, “When I look back now, the vague and visionary idea I had in returning home seems ludicrous and a little pathetic.”
He knew, upon finishing this book, that many who read it would pick up on his weariness, so he spelled it out ahead of time. He was concerned with soil and livestock, with religion and human relationships, with the future of the world in every sense of the word. He was bothered that so many were living on the land but working in town, not even growing a bit of their own food.
He opened the book with “Apologia” which reads, “If at times in this book the tone of writing appears to be unduly controversial, I attribute this to long contact with many of the closed minds and the unimaginative mentalities with which agriculture, like any other science, is afflicted.”
Bromfield worried that many were not seeing the importance of conservation. He even went so far as to describe himself as “an amiable and kindly person, very gregarious and fond of people and of conversation, of argument and even of controversy and the exploration of other minds where there is anything to explore.”
Looking back. I still enjoy visiting Bromfield’s Richland County farm which is now a state-run historic place not far from my home, preserved with a quiet grace.
Attempting to look at the world of the 1940s and 1950s through Louis Bromfield’s eyes only leads me to wonder: What in the world would he think of our nation now?